It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, Mitch Trubisky torched the Buccaneers defense in one of the best quarterback performances in Bears history.
Trubisky threw for 354 yards and had six non-interception touchdown passes that day at Soldier Field. His 154.6 passer rating was the third best in franchise history. He had passes of 47, 39, 35, 33, 31 and 30 yards. He threw touchdown passes to wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. He rushed for gains of 26 and 23 yards. He won 48-10.
He did everything except learn.
In the end, lashing out at bad defenses didn’t do anything for Trubisky in the long run. He threw for 355 yards and three non-intercepting touchdowns against the Lions in 2018. He threw three non-intercepting touchdowns against the Lions in 2019. He threw three non-intercepting touchdowns against the Texans last season. But his momentum from all those glorious days only lasted until the next good defense he faced. Then he was just another struggling young quarterback trying to figure things out.
That’s where Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields is today, but with a much different opportunity against the Buccaneers’ defense on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
With just two starters from the unit Trubisky destroyed – linebacker Lavonte David and pass thrower Jason Pierre-Paul – the Bucs’ defense was transformed into a championship-caliber force that plagued Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and comes to you from all directions.
This is exactly what Fields needs. Whether the recruit succeeds or fails, the lessons learned from a battle against a good defense are more valuable than the fool’s gold from a banner day against a bad defense. This is one of the many lessons learned during the Trubisky era.
Fields had his best assist day against the Lions in Week 4 – averaging 12.3 yards per attempt with passes of 64, 32, 28 and 27 yards. It didn’t take him to a new level. Fields threw for 111 yards the following week against the Raiders and 174 against the Packers.
It’s not the 85 Bears he’ll be up against, but a defense that will challenge him to learn. The Buccaneers are No.1 in the NFL in run defense, but 27th in pass defense. Patriots rookie Mac Jones completed 31 of 40 passes for 275 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.6 passer rating against the Buccaneers in Week 4 – and is 105.0 in two matches since.
Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said it was a challenge for Fields “to be disciplined to stay within your rules.” Much more than against the Lions, it is a test of the quality of his teaching and his learning.
“It’s a great learning lesson for him,” Lazor said. “It’s, ‘Hey, that’s why we’re setting up the path [we] do in the off-season. This is why you have OTAs and [why] you’re here in may and june to learn all the rules and get everyone together, and you repeat it in training camp.
“Throughout the season you’re going to be up against teams where their blitz programs are limited and you can really focus. You are going to face teams like this where they have a lot of variety and you just have to stay within your rules. It will be a good learning experience for him.
Fields’ improvement through four starts has been hard to quantify – his confidence; its resilience; his mastery of the caucus; browse its progressions.
“Being able to communicate how he sees things and how he likes things – not just with the coaches but with the players. The quarterback’s opinion matters – it’s just a fact, ”Lazor said. “His playing speed keeps improving more and more. It shows a bit in training and sometimes on match day. ”
Sunday’s game will be another big test. He might learn some tough lessons, but in the NFL there don’t seem to be any easy ones.